homepage
  roll on christmas  
about the ship sign up for our newsletter support the ship
community the mystery worshipper gadgets for god caption competition foolishness features ship stuff
features home columnists archive
 
features and projects
The story so far...
You're currently on our features and projects pages, with material ranging from the satirical to the theological. For more features, click here.
 
 
chapter and worse
The ten worst verses of the Bible
Lord, ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. Ship of Fools can finally and authoritatively reveal the worst verse in the Bible, according to our readers.

The verse is ascribed to – who'd have thought it – St Paul, and if you'll turn with me in your Bibles you'll find it in 1 Timothy:

"I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." (1 Timothy 2:12)

It's a verse that's particularly difficult to discuss. When we revealed the results of the Chapter and Worse poll at the recent Greenbelt festival, Hannah Kowszun, the only woman in our panel of three had, of course, to contribute in sign language.

St Paul did well to make the top place with his rules for church life in first-century Ephesus, beating genocide, infanticide, executions, dismemberment, human sacrifice (and donkeys) to get there. All the verses that placed from fifth to second place resorted to violence to do so.

In second place, the Lord via the prophet Samuel instructs King Saul in ethnic cleansing:

"This is what the Lord Almighty says... 'Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'" (1 Samuel 15:3)

It seems like a rather disappointing elucidation of what the Lord did and didn't mean by, "Love your neighbour as yourself."

At number 3 is the only entry from the Hebrew Torah:

"Do not allow a sorceress to live." (Exodus 22:18)

This is not the only biblical death penalty, but it appears sorceresses elicit greater sympathy than blasphemers, rebellious sons, unfaithful fiancées and brides who fail to prove their virginity.

Number 4 is particularly jarring because it comes at the end of a favourite psalm, which moves from pining for home to anger against the Babylonians who have taken them into exile. It's the line that Boney M didn't quite manage to fit in to their disco calypso hit, Rivers of Babylon:

"Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!" (Psalm 137:9)

Hebrew hymnwriters were rather franker about their feelings than their modern counterparts, weren't they?

Number 5 brings us to the most unpopular book in the Top Ten, Judges, a history of Israel before its first king:

"So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go." (Judges 19:25)

The man in question is so outraged by the treatment of his woman, he cuts her into 12 pieces and sends them around the 12 tribes of Israel in protest. The biblical writer makes no comment.

From all that violence, we return to Paul for some homophobia. The 6th worse verse in the Bible is:

"In the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error." (Romans 1:27)

It's the one you could imagine Rowan Williams trying to sneak out of the Bible when no one's looking.

Then at 7 it's back to Judges for a bit of human sacrifice:

"And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, 'If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord's, to be offered up by me as a burnt-offering.'"
(Judges 11:30-1)

As Hannah Kowszun said at Greenbelt, perhaps he was hoping it would be the missus. But it was his daughter, so he was morally obliged to burn her for God.

In at number 8, a golden oldie, for prog rock fans, it's Genesis. God is speaking to Abraham:

"Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you." (Genesis 22:2)

More human sacrifice. Admittedly, this time it turns out that God doesn't actually mean it, but does that really let him off the hook?

We're back to St Paul for a third time with number 9:

"Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord." (Ephesians 5:22)

And scraping in at the last moment to the number 10 slot, it's the man who gets a much better press for saying most of the same things, St Peter:

"Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel." (1 Peter 2:18)

All in all, the results are a mixture of the historically horrific and milder restrictions that are still being applied in our own times. It may be a surprise that biblical sexism caps biblical genocide, but maybe it's because it's more of a live issue. No one is using the Book of Samuel to justify genocide today, but the words of Paul are still used to silence women.

It's an unedifying list, but we think the Bible can survive bringing these shadowy verses into the spotlight. It's not the all-or-nothing book that fundamentalists (atheist and Christian) say that we must either accept wholesale or burn. We need a view of the Bible that is nuanced enough to treasure its comforts and challenges, its classic stories and groundbreaking ethical wisdom, while facing the plain fact that some of it is unacceptable.
 
Although we've concluded our poll, you're welcome to send us your worst verse and join in the debate – click here!
It could be a verse which is irredeemably naff, mind-numbingly boring, or a verse which you find offensive or cruel. Please send us your nomination for worst verse here. And go here to join the online debate about the verses we've received.
bible man says... and this is a good idea, why
Because the Bible is probably the most important book ever, but it sometimes seems that the only people who care about it are rival gangs of fundamentalists, Christian and atheist, determined to beat it into the shape of their own prejudices.
We want to rescue the Bible from their rival takeover bids. We want to take it out of the hands of people who hit you over the head with it.
It doesn't have to be a textbook of infallible information and unbreakable laws to be God's book. And it doesn't have to be one big pile of lies and atrocity just because it has its dodgy bits.
We want to remind non-Christians that Christians can see the flaws of their own faith as well as others can. And we want to remind Christians too.
Let's have a bit of balance, shall we?
   
 
follow ship of fools on twitter
buy your ship of fools postcards
sip of fools mugs from your favourite nautical website